Ever since 17-year-old Jonathan Lin was introduced to Minecraft in 2012, he’s been determined to create an adventure game of his own. When he learned about the 2016 National STEM Video Game Challenge, he knew it was the perfect opportunity to team up with his friends Preston Lai, 17, and Alexander Chen, 17, to create an immersive narrative-based game design. The boys spent the summer in their hometown of Whippany, New Jersey working on their top-down exploration game, Sanctuary, winner of the Nat Geo Explore Playable Game High School category. In Sanctuary, players explore underground caves and laboratories in search of a vault containing enough plant life to regenerate the world, which is on the edge of extinction.
“I think that a big part of games is escapism,” says Jonathan, “Send your audience on an adventure to fight monsters, look for treasure, or meet your characters, whatever—just remember that your audience is there to have fun and explore a place they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.” When he’s not playing exploration-based games, Jonathan likes to play tennis and chess, read science fiction and fantasy novels, and work on his digital painting skills. After high school he’s interested in studying computer science, and becoming a web developer or software engineer.
When it comes to designing your first game, Alexander stresses that allowing ample time for development is key. “Time lets you open your mind for creativity as well as give space for the hard, grind work when you need to get tedious parts done,” he explains. Alexander’s hobbies include marching band, playing piano, and sports like ice hockey and soccer. He plans to study material science and engineering in college.
One of Preston’s greatest pleasures is using his hands, whether he’s making origami or creating sculptures using cardboard and masking tape. “When I’m not making or playing games, I also enjoy reading old books and short stories,” he shares, “Particularly horror stories.” In the future, Preston hopes to study engineering, and is considering a mechanical or civil engineering specialty.
“Out of everything I’ve learned, I’d say the most important thing was learning to fully appreciate the skill and creativity of both of my team members,” says Jonathan, reflecting on the experience of developing Sanctuary with his friends. “I learned to trust their work while avoiding micromanaging.” Preston points out the importance of clear communication and teamwork in order to create a strong finished product, priorities that Alexander echoes. “We were skeptical of whether we would be able to finish on time,” Preston says, “But through hard work and long nights, we were able to reach our goal. Perseverance is key.”